Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Faith That Works #JesusFollowers

Without action, nothing is achieved. Jesus told a parable in which a king left a group of servants in charge of some money. The ones who invested and used it were praised upon his return. Those who did nothing and hid the money were scolded.

The same is true with our Faith in God, Whom Jesus reveals to us through his teachings, life and death. We are saved from sin in this life, and eternally, only by the teachings and example of Jesus.

A Faith that rests in smug complacency and pride fails. A Faith that puts our talents to work and tests us makes us spiritually stronger.

Jesus calls us to run, to achieve, to do, to act, to work, to become better, to seek out truth, to be righteous, to be humble, to worship and praise our God, and to love others.

And our works have eternal consequences, as well as being of great benefit to others around us right now.

This is a world desperately in need of a deep, loving faith that can work righteousness in the heart as well as in the mind. It needs a Kingdom of Godly men and women who actively feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, bind up the broken-hearted and tend to the ill. This is the very mission Jesus tells us he was sent to proclaim by his, and our, Creator.

Mere platitudes and a religion based upon “instant salvation,” which leaves our neighbors unloved, unserved, and falsely assured of eternity, cheats both them and us out of experiencing the Kingdom that Jesus announced as his mission.

Jesus taught clearly that we are saved eternally by God according to our works (though not by others' opinions of our works, nor by our high opinion of our own works, nor by how loudly we perform our works.)

God alone judges our Works, but it's clear from Jesus' teachings that mere good intentions alone do not save us, nor do they bring about God's Kingdom on earth.

There is no other teaching claiming the name ‘Christianity” that leads to salvation other than the words of Jesus, our Master. All we need to know about God’s Will for us was revealed in the words and example of Jesus, the one God adopted, chose and commissioned to preach to us.

So, when we encounter what is claimed to be the Gospel, if it fails to challenge us to pursue Good Works, we know that it's a false and easy Faith we've encountered – a wide and false gate, rather than the Gospel preached from the very mouth of Jesus.

That's because Jesus clearly calls us to an active Faith - a Faith that Works. It's a challenge worth accepting and worth LIVING. It leads to a spiritually complete life and to eternal life.

Jesus is a teacher who challenges us, his students, to become spiritually complete by actively seeking and doing Righteousness.

“For I have given you an example,” says our Master, “that you also should do just as I have done to you.”  (John 13:15)

Jesus preached in order to challenge us to seek spiritual completeness, and calls us today to be examples in his name. And he, as a human being, demonstrated that we can follow him in all things.

To imagine Jesus teaches anything less is to make him and his teachings into something small, and his Faith into something light, unimportant, and easy to obtain.

We must not degrade Jesus' teachings and the Faith that he proclaimed to the world in this way. And we should not settle for a Faith that doesn't Work Righteousness in this world, which desperately needs it.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Truly Transformed by Jesus! #JesusFollowers

The message Jesus taught during his ministry is an active and revolutionary call to action for the human race.

Jesus calls us to do good works, to become more holy people, to act in righteousness, and to serve others first.

Jesus calls us to achieve, to do, to act, to work, to become better people, to seek out the truth, to be humble, to worship and praise our God, and to love others.

Yet many who claim the name of Jesus do not believe we must do the "good works" that Jesus himself calls us to do.

Relying on the teachings of later men, many believe they can achieve righteousness by merely calling themselves righteous. But of course, Jesus called out the Pharisees for doing just that!

To deny that Jesus taught a Gospel of Good Works and active service is to deny his Gospel entirely. Doing good on behalf of others stands at the very core of the Gospel Jesus preached.

God chose Jesus to be our model and example, not as a cold, unapproachable idol to be worshiped from afar. Instead, God chose and sent Jesus out into the world to show us by word and deed how we should live Godly lives.

Many believe they have been transformed by Jesus, but if they remain inactive, resting on their "salvation" through their mere words and an emotional utterance of their lips, they were probably not transformed at all, and their faith is a self-delusion.

Let's be clear: Our lives cannot be transformed by merely admiring Jesus. His goodness cannot magically be transferred into us just by pretending it has been. To claim this makes a mockery of Jesus' call to actively FOLLOW him in serving God and others in God's name.

To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, comfort those in distress - these cannot be done by merely feeling smug about our "personal salvation." Saying "go forth and be warmed, be clothed" is to spit on Jesus' Gospel and laugh in the face of the God who sent him to preach it.

To be transformed by Jesus is to be called to action by him, and to heed that call. His example, his message, his Gospel, is what transforms our lives and the lives of those around us. We rely on the example of Jesus and the ongoing inspiration and assistance of God's Spirit to transform us and make our lives spiritually complete.

We are transformed by Jesus only when we go from inactive self-assurance to active service of others. 

We are transformed by Jesus when we actively love God and demonstrate that by actively serving and loving our neighbors just as we love ourselves, as God's anointed one taught us to do.

If we call ourselves by his name, we ought to walk as he himself walked, becoming in our daily lives the very model of his righteousness in all that we do. Let us allow our acts shine like a light in a world desperate for our example.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

What God Gives Us Lasts Forever #JesusFollowers

All truth is permanent. It can never pass away. The heart and mind cling with passionate love to all realized truth, and will hold it, even if mixed with error.

The miner who has found a nugget of gold holds it firmly, though it is mixed with earth and debris. He will not let it go until you can separate the earth and alloy, and leave the gold pure. So religious people cling to doctrines a thousand times over proved to be false and absurd, not because they love falsehood, but because they love the truth with which that error is mixed.

Mere logic cannot make them let go of the doctrine by any argument or ridicule. They will not relinquish it until someone comes who can see the truth in the error, and give them that truth in a purer form. Then they let the error go. This was what Jesus did. He took into the Gospel all that was true in Judaism.

Jesus was the greatest and boldest reformer who ever lived. To him the Jewish Temple was nothing, the Jewish Sabbath was nothing: human beings were the true temple, human good was the only reason for the Sabbath; and the pure in heart saw God. And yet Jesus, so much of a reformer, so radical in all things, said he came not to destroy, and that nothing would pass from the law until all was fulfilled. He took up all the truth of the past into the present, and carried it on into the future.

When God gives us love, he gives it forever. Superficial sympathies, based on accident, proximity, or common interests of the hour, are fleeting, but the love which sees what is best in us, and cares for that, is something which cannot pass away. For this is like God's love. He is the God of the living, and loves the loving part our nature. And this human love attaches itself to the deepest, noblest, and best thing in us, and often discovers better things in us than we know ourselves.

If we love that which is best in each other, not the fleeting, though seducing, charm, but the truth and sincerity and earnest feeling in each other's souls, our love to each other helps, and does not hinder; if we make it vital and encourage it by conscience and faith, if we help each other to be nearer to truth, duty, and God, our love for each other becomes immortal.

Goodness, real goodness, is so much better than anything else that, if we ever have it, we cling to it always. A person who has done one generous act values it in his heart, more than all of life’s outward successes.

Jesus came from the obscurest corner of an obscure state, to be the light of the world. He taught a year, and died, and is the life of mankind. So it was seen that, when God gave Jesus to the human race, he gave us forever.

Jesus says, "Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die." That is, "to one who has my faith, my spirit, who trusts in the truth I teach, there is no such thing as death. God’s spirit which is in me, if it exist in you, will carry you upward and onward."

It is no magical influence which Jesus exercises on the soul. Faith in him is no talisman, but a moral power.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. James Freeman Clarke, 1886)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Empowered By God To Work Righteousness #JesusFollowers

We are clearly called by Jesus to actively and boldly pursue a mission of Righteous Action on this earth. And by so doing, we help bring about God's Kingdom of Heaven in the Here and Now.

This was the core of all Jesus taught in his Gospel, and there was nothing unclear or confusing in his message, nor has anything been hidden from his 12 disciples, or from us.

To do Good Works, in humility and to the best of our ability, was expressly taught and commanded  by the one God chose and anointed at his baptism to be God's chosen example and Master to all humanity.

If we don't accept this teaching, we simply cannot claim his name as that of our teacher. (1 John 2:6)

So, let no one tell us that we are powerless to do good, because God has implanted within our infant souls the Reasonable knowledge of what is good, has given us Scriptural Wisdom to point to what is good, and has chosen and sent Jesus to teach and live out what is good as our perfect example. Then God graciously gives us ongoing gifts of wisdom, strength and courage to continue to do what is good when we ask these things from Him in prayer.

We are in all these ways empowered fully to do all that God asks of us without excuse or hesitation. And for this, we should continually thank and praise God for His gifts.

Jesus teaches us, "Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able." And, "Strive to enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Luke 13:24; Matt. 7:13-14)

By this, we know that we may indeed enter the narrow way of Righteousness, if we strive to do so. But along the way, we can't be detoured by making excuses or adopting "easy" man-made beliefs and short-cuts that let us feel that we are following our Master's way, when we really aren't.

Striving always equates with effort and work. And salvation, like all things worth having, requires work, not just good intentions or vain praise.

Good intentions, or a cheap, works-free faith, can neither win us eternal salvation with God nor enrich our lives here on earth, any more than good intentions alone could build a house, get us an education, find a job, or feed the hungry and care for those in need.

Jesus, who was faithful to God in all things, assured us that we can do all that he did. (John 14:12) And he followed God not with his lips alone but with his acts and with his heart.

Because of this, we need never fear acting, and letting our Works define our Faith.

And we should not fear to act simply because we fear failure, any more than students should refuse to take a test until they are certain they will score a perfect grade.

When we fail to live up to the standards Jesus sets for us, we repent and seek God's inexhaustible mercy and forgiveness. But we must not make excuses for not seeking what Jesus commands, nor hold God responsible for HIS promises if we refuse to strive to fulfill our own.

We should also remember that Jesus' warning for us not to judge applies to our own eternal salvation, which is God's alone to give. We must strive to merit salvation, but humbly allow God alone to be our judge of worthiness.

So, let us Work Righteousness in this world, doing all we can to be an example of the light of God that was born within us, kindled into Good Works by the saving  example of Jesus, and inflamed by God's ongoing help and graceful encouragement.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Duty of Being Unfashionable #JesusFollowers

Let us consider the duty of being unfashionable. It is not always a duty to be unfashionable. Fashions may be right, as well as wrong; good, as well as bad; and when they are right and good it is a duty to be fashionable. Or a fashion may be neither good nor bad, and then it is neither a duty to be fashionable nor to be unfashionable.

There is nothing objectionable in wearing fashionable clothes rather than unfashionable clothes, if you wish to do so, and can afford it. As a general thing it is best to conform to the customs of society when they are innocent. It is not worthwhile to make oneself a martyr for small things.

But there are fashions in other things than dress - fashions in literature, in philosophy, in art, in manners, in morals, in politics, in religion. And it may often be our duty to swim against the stream, to resist the current; in short, it may often be our duty to become unfashionable.

There are fashions in literature. Every original writer is unfashionable; he follows no fashion. He writes in his own way, not in that of any one else. In this sense, therefore, it is a duty to be unfashionable in literature. The good writer has a style of his own; he does not flow with the stream; he always seems to be swimming against the current of commonplace; he is original in thought and expression. He is so because he is true.

So also in art. The true artist has style. Everyone who sees the paintings of the masters soon comes to know each one of them by his style. Style means originality, personality put into work. The great masters have style; their imitators follow a fashion, they imitate the external form, but the soul escapes them. It is the duty of artists to be unfashionable; that is, to be themselves, to be genuine, to be sincere, simple, and true.

The religious fashion of thought in the seventeenth century in England was expressed in the Church’s Catechism. Our present fashion of thinking is wholly different, and yet many thousand churches in the United States hold to that creed, and insist that the religious faith and feeling of the twenty-first century must be expressed in the language of the seventeenth.

All the great religious reforms have been unfashionable at first. Christianity was unfashionable among the Jews. Religion, in its very nature, begins in unpopularity. All the prophets of God are lonely at first.

The unfashionable thinker of today sets the fashion for the age which is to come. Let every lonely, conscientious, God-seeking soul remember this and take courage.

The best illustration of the difference between eccentricity and a true independence, is to be found in the conduct and character of Jesus Christ himself. Jesus conformed in common things to common practice. There was nothing singular or eccentric in his behavior. He came eating and drinking like other people. He dressed and conversed according to the fashion of his time.

He conformed to outward customs in his behavior. But inwardly he stood apart; his soul held fast by the great unchanging realities. He held to the universal religion of the human race, with which fashion had nothing to do. His religion was no innovation; no interruption in the course of nature; not supernatural, except as all divine things are both natural and supernatural. It was the religion of universal mankind – the truth and good brought to the highest point.

The originality of Jesus consisted in this - that he saw this truth so clearly and so deeply that he has made others see it too. He has filled the world full of God's truth and love. Jesus saw it clearly and uttered it plainly, and he made it a religious rule for mankind. Others, before Jesus, have taught the forgiving love of God to the sinner; but he taught it so that there is not in all Christendom an ignorant, humble, and unhappy child but knows that if he cries to God his prayer will be heard. Others have taught the great law of duty, the eternal distinction between right and wrong; but Jesus has filled the human heart so full of it that its sound has gone out to all the earth, and its word to the end of the world. Jesus makes a new heaven and a new earth by making old things young again; by renewing the primeval youth of the human mind and heart.

The fashion of this world passes away. Everything but the deep foundations of being changes from day to day. Fashions in speech, in dress, in manners, in opinion, come and go. But there are some convictions which are above fashion. Such is the faith of man in God, duty, and immortality. These beliefs are untouched by any fashions of thought. Man, in every age, has looked up, out of the finite and visible world in which he lives, to worship something unseen and eternal. We may be sure that this faith in God is not a transient fashion, but a permanent necessity of man's soul.

Guest Message adapted from a sermon by James Freeman Clarke (1886)